Imagine a show with an Indian-American lead, an extremely diverse cast, and a lead character who is both a person of color and part of the LGBTQ community. Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, Netflix’s newly released coming-of-age comedy series, Never Have I Ever, includes all of the above. While the show does excel in certain aspects, I felt that it also fell short in many ways, and I was disappointed by what I hoped to be a very progressive show for teenage women of color.
Narrated by tennis star John McEnroe, the show tells the story of teen girl Devi Vishwakumar as she learns how to cope with the death of her father. Devi begins her sophomore year with strong optimism and hope for a good year. Soon, though, her obsession with classmate Paxton Hall-Yoshida causes problems with her mom, friends, and Paxton himself. Throughout the show, Devi learns to accept the death of her father and to appreciate her friends and her mother more.
The best part about the show is its casting. The main character is Indian-American, which is very uncommon to see in the media. In addition, the rest of the cast is extremely diverse, and most, if not all, of the characters are people of color. The love interest is Japanese-American and Devi’s best friends are African-American and Asian-American. I could go on listing the different characters and ethnicities, but essentially, the cast is very diverse. I really liked and appreciated that aspect of the show, especially because a lot of shows and movies tend to have very white casts.
Another aspect that I liked was that the show depicted certain aspects of Hindu and Indian culture. This included Devi and her family celebrating the Hindu holiday Ganesh Puja. Another topic that was addressed was that Kamala, Devi’s cousin, is set up for an arranged marriage. Kamala explains how she’s not being forced to do anything, and that arranged marriage can be a good thing. I like that this topic was addressed because arranged marriage is typically considered a bad thing in western culture. Kamala’s perspective shows that it’s not always a bad thing, and there often is a choice for the people involved.
Where I felt the show is not as great is that one of the main premises is that Devi wants to change herself and her friends to appeal to the boy she likes. This is a super cliche high school show storyline, but in this case it is different; since the whole show is about acceptance and diversity, shouldn’t the main character be accepting of who she is and not try to change? At the very least, the show should be a journey of self-acceptance rather than show Devi trying so hard to change herself for a boy. The ending only touches on the acceptance of her father’s death, but self-acceptance isn’t really addressed.
Another aspect I did not like is that kids at her school make fun of Devi for being smart and she even feels shame about herself for being smart. There’s nothing wrong with being an intelligent person, and I hate when that idea is depicted in shows. The writers had a really good opportunity to have the main character be a girl who loves herself, despite what people think, but Devi is very much influenced by her peers. There’s nothing wrong with having a character who deals with peer pressure and her own problems, but I felt that the show takes it too far. Devi herself feels superior to other girls who are in Model UN with her, simply because Devi claims to have been with a popular boy. On one hand, it is suitable to include certain high school cliches, but on the other hand, this show and cast would have been perfect to break stereotypes and have powerful characters who love themselves and others for who they are.
My final critique is that the show pushes the idea that to be cool or to have a fulfilling high school career, people should attend parties, have a boyfriend, and try lots of different things. There are so many people who prefer not to attend parties, do drugs, or drink alcohol, and that’s completely acceptable. Devi does not have to fit in in those ways, and neither do normal students. In terms of dating, a large number of people never date in high school or even college, and that’s an idea that should definitely be normalized. Devi could’ve been a character who worked on bettering herself, accepting herself, and stepping out of the normal high school cliche, but the show strengthened those stereotypes and in a way makes people feel that they might be missing out on a high school experience.
I truly did enjoy watching the show, and it was very unique in many ways that I appreciated. Still, I was disappointed that it didn’t do more to spread a culture of acceptance and self-love rather than add to common archetypes.